Fisheries Update - June 2009

Set lines are a commercial type of fishing gear which includes drop lines and long lines. These are basically long fishing lines with multiple hooks attached so that they are very efficient fish-catching and killing devices.

The problem with recreational fishers using this type of gear is that large numbers of fish can be caught and killed in excess of possession or size limits in a short space of time. Recreational fishing in Tasmania is supposed to be managed so that fishers are able to catch enough fish for food for themselves and their immediate family. Use of commercial gear such as gillnets and set lines undermines this approach. 

The cost/benefit analysis that forms part of the ongoing scalefish review states that already there are not enough fish to sustain the wants and needs of all sectors, and key target species are clearly in decline. It therefore seems strange that DPIW continues to allow recreational fishers to use commercial fishing gear.

Access to this fishing gear by recreational fishers makes it much easier for illegal unlicensed commercial fishing to occur. The Tasmanian Government should immediately ban recreational use of commercial type gear such as gillnets and set lines.

Recreational Gillnets - An Environmental Disaster

The Tasmanian recreational gillnet fishery is the most destructive and unsustainable fishery in our state waters.

Tasmania probably has the most permissive recreational net fishing regulations of any state in the developed world. In Australia, recreational net fishing is not permitted in any other state waters on the eastern seaboard.

Using government figures, approximately 80 percent of Tasmanian recreational net fishers target the east coast (Lyle & Smith, 1998) and 6685 graball net licences were issued during the 1997/98 season, and 2683 of these licence holders were licensed to hold a second net (Lyle & Jordan, 1999).

Simple arithmetic [(6685 + 2683) x 0.80 x 50m / 1000m] indicates that more than 370km of graball net were being used on Tasmania’s East Coast when the data was collected. This is approximately the same as the straight line distance from Banks Strait in the north-east to South East Cape. It is hard to see how this level of fishing pressure can be sustainable.

Fishing is almost certainly having major impacts on Tasmania’s coastal ecology. The best evidence for this has come from research that has been carried out to assess the effectiveness of the marine reserve at Maria Island. After just a few years of protection, numbers of fish longer than 33cm have increased markedly (a rise of over 240 percent in six years). In addition, bastard trumpet, a species that is particularly vulnerable to net fishing, is relatively common inside the reserve but practically absent outside (Edgar & Barrett, 1999).

There do not appear to be any practical mechanisms to manage this fishery on an ecologically sustainable basis. Collecting adequate information from the fishery is a major practical problem, given the number of fishers and the likely accuracy of reporting. Lack of basic scientific knowledge about target species simply adds to the difficulty of ensuring that ecological impacts of this fishery are sustainable.

And of course fish are not the only victims. Dolphins, penguins and other animals can easily become entangled and killed in nets. For example, more than 20 fairy penguins were killed by one gillnet in just one night of fishing near a penguin colony at Rocky Cape.

Bycatch of undersized fish, and protected species such as marine mammals and sea birds, will always be a major problem for this fishery, whatever management regime is adopted. Concerns about bycatch alone are enough to justify the Tasmanian Conservation Trust’s position that recreational graball nets should be phased out as soon as possible. Tasmania should follow the lead of the other eastern states and ban recreational graball nets from state waters.

Less than 10 percent of sea fishers in Tasmania use gillnets. It would appear that, as well as the environment, the majority of other sea fishers are also losing out, as most reef-dwelling scalefish caught by recreational fishers seem to be caught by nets.

Jon Bryan

Marine Campaigner

Tasmanian Conservation Trust


Edgar, GJ & Barrett, NS, 1999. Effects of the declaration of marine reserves on Tasmanian reef fishes, invertebrates and plants, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 242: 107-144.

Lyle JM & Jordan AR, 1999, Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery Assessment – 1998, Tasmanian Aquaculture & Fisheries Institute, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Lyle JM & Smith JT, 1998, Pilot survey of licensed recreational sea fishing in Tasmania. Marine Resources Division, Marine Research Laboratories – Taroona, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Hobart.